Parenting is not an easy task. While most parents try their hardest to provide their children with the best possible education and quality of life, those whose children have been diagnosed with ADHD often face additional challenges. While each child will, of course, require a unique and personalized approach, the 11strategies below provide an excellent place to begin developing better methods of parenting a child with ADHD:
1. Realize that all children are imperfect—and that’s okay.
Many parents’ first reaction when they find out their child is “different” in any way that might be perceived as negative is to worry excessively, or even become resentful. Unfortunately, children tend to pick up on such pessimistic feelings, and their self-esteem often suffers as a result. Your child is much more likely to overcome any hurdles created by his or her ADHD if you convey a sense of faith and positivity.
Remember that it is our differences that make us unique, and what makes us unique forms the basis of what we have to offer the world—this is as true of children with ADHD as it is of those without.
2. Don’t succumb to negative opinions.
In an ideal world, educators would understand and accommodate children with ADHD without parents having to constantly advocate on their behalf, but the reality is that many are still coming up to speed in this area. As such, parents need to be prepared to stand up to negative opinions about their children with ADHD (i.e. that a child is inattentive, “slow”, not motivated enough, etc.) and fight for their children’s educational needs regardless of what others say.
3. Understand that medication cannot do everything.
While medication can certainly be helpful for children dealing with ADD, it’s usually just one part of a multifaceted treatment strategy. If you credit medication with fundamentally changing your child’s behavior, your child will both not give herself due credit and not take enough responsibility for her own actions.
Medication can be over-emphasized in either positive or negative ways; for example, when a child is acting out, asking her if she forgot to take her medication that morning will send the message that medication is more responsible for her behavior than she is. Threatening to increase a child’s medication when she is unruly will have the same effect.
Children who see themselves as the masters of their own behavior and their own destinies grow up to be more confident and capable adults, so be sure to explain that medication is there only to streamline a child’s existing skills and abilities, not to create them.
4. Discipline rather than punish.
Contrary to popular belief, threats are generally an ineffective way of correcting a child’s behavior, and this is especially true of children with ADHD, who are dealing with impaired impulse control and difficulties in processing memories. Invariably, using incentives to help a child want to correct his or her own behavior is a much more effective way of bringing about change.
To discipline a child, explain why certain behaviors are not appropriate, what would be an acceptable substitute, and then add some form of positive reinforcement for choosing the acceptable behavior over the unacceptable one. Avoid resorting to the use of either fear or shame to try to “make” the child behave.
If discipline is not effective in a given situation, try removing the child from that situation and enforcing some manner of time out, then think rationally about some form of reasonable consequence for the child’s bad behavior.
5. Understand that there are behaviors children with ADHD cannot control.
Children with ADHD legitimately struggle with certain tasks due to their inherent distractibility. While it would be considered “normal” to discipline most children for wandering off to play with their toys before completing their chores, for example, disciplining children with ADHD for the same actions will make them feel set up for failure, as the behavior is in their case almost certainly involuntary.
When children feel doomed to failure, they lose their motivation to try to succeed, which in turn leads to them developing more problem behaviors in areas they otherwise could control. As such, rather than disciplining your child for involuntary behaviors, try gently reminding her of the task at hand and see how she responds. If she isn’t oppositional in any way, give her the benefit of the doubt.
6. Don’t pin all the blame on others when your child struggles.
While it can be difficult to work with educators and other adults in your child’s life who may not understand ADHD, parents need to stop short of blaming others for their child’s behaviors and shortcomings. Just as attributing too much power to medication robs a child of his or her agency, so does assigning too much influence to authority figures in your child’s life. Likewise, it will teach your child to blame others for his or her flaws, a bad habit which often lasts into adulthood.
7. Be critical of behaviors, not your child.
It’s important to point out behaviors that need changing, but be mindful of the kind of language you use; when you call a child “lazy,” “hyper,” “a slob,” “spacey,” and so on, you label that child as a whole in ways that can influence his or her self-perception for years, even decades.
Instead of being critical of your child, explain the problem created by her behavior (e.g. that a messy room will attract pests or cause people to trip) and then try to involve her in coming up with a solution.
8. Think before saying “no” to your child.
While a firm “no” is certainly necessary at times—particularly if a child is at risk of hurting himself or others—the word should not be used reflexively when no immediate danger is present.
When you tell a child “no” too often and too easily, he will feel like you are not on his “side”, not interested in his wants and needs, and therefore begin to rebel. For children with ADHD—who are already prone to impulse and often have a short fuse—this can be the beginning of a fast slide down a slippery slope.
Learn to listen to your child and to say “yes” to the little things where it won’t do any real harm, such as saying “yes” to having a small snack before dinner, or to staying an extra half-hour at the park.
Doing this won’t necessarily lead to your child becoming indulged, especially if you involve him in solving any obstacles that stand in the way of a “yes” answer. It is always a good idea to suggest your child brainstorm the problem together to come up with a workable solution. This approach engenders a kind of team spirit while also asking that your child take on a measure of responsibility for the situation, rather than simply being given what he wants.
9. Regularly affirm positive behavior.
Too many parents—whether their children have ADHD or not—fall into the bad habit of remarking more on behaviors that need to be changed than those which are already positive. This trains children to focus on what is negative about themselves, rather than seeing the good they inherently possess, which robs them of the motivation to be even better.
Try to cultivate a positive environment at home, one which revolves around spending enjoyable quality time together and participating in enriching hobbies and interests, and you and your child will both surely flourish.
10. Try to deal with potentially explosive situations before they occur.
Children with ADHD require even more regulation and consistency than “normal” children do, so it’s vital that parents learn to anticipate explosive situations rather than simply reacting to them after they happen.
Learn those things which seem to trigger your child into an outburst—it might be a last minute change in plans, an interruption in his or her usual schedule, too much social stimulation in one day, or something else—and have a “plan B” in place for how to deal with those times when a trigger might be unavoidable.
Children with ADHD do best in homes that are well-organized, where both parents are consistently on the same page in what they expect and how they react to problem behaviors.
11. Teach by example.
Children with ADHD, like all children, learn primarily by emulating their parents. As such, parents should try to embody the qualities that children with ADHD most need to learn, such as self-control, personal organization, responsibility, and thoroughness.
At all times, parents of children with ADHD should avoid overt displays of anger.Show your child with ADHD how to deal with anger appropriately by instead taking deep breaths, leaving the room, and then calming down and thinking about the situation until you come up with a rational solution.
If you do lose your temper—none of us are perfect, after all—make sure to apologize and explain that such behavior is wrong.
Finally, in difficult situations, don’t hesitate to seek help online. Parenting children with ADHD can be overwhelming, and parents should use all the resources and assistance they can get.There are many online ADHD forums and online networks for parents of children with ADHD.